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LitChat on Holiday Break December 24, 2012

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Happy holidays everyone. Another year has come and gone, we’ve read many fabulous books and chatted with dozens of terrific authors. We’re taking a holiday break from now until January 7. Check out our schedule of authors lined up for #litchat during the first quarter of 2012.

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The War Novel November 19, 2012

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MediaMonday for Novembe 19, 2012: How Dead is the Book Business? Source media by Adam Davidson in the New York Times, November 13, 2012.

David Abrams in #litchat

David Abrams, photo: Lisa Wareham Photography

Every generation has its great war novels. Those which endure through the years are as much about characters as they are tactics and missions. This Wednesday, November 21, 2012, we’ll discuss the war novel and on Friday, November 23, we’re in for a treat when David Abrams joins us as guest host to discuss his novel, Fobbit.

Fobbit. Rhymes with hobbit; a U.S. soldier stationed at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) whose  job is performed within the confines of the base, e.g. clerks, cooks, mechanics, and spin soldiers. Fobbits never venture into the war zone [read: the city of Baghdad] outside the compound gates.

Just as James Heller’s Catch-22 cast a new idiom into global usage, thanks to Abram’s darkly comic novel of the Iraqi war, expect to hear the word fobbit forged on the lips of hipsters, geeks and everyone in between. And like Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel MASH took readers into the surgical theater of war, so does Abram’s novel take us into the world of military spin doctors whose job is transforming tragedy into palatable pulp for the world’s hard-edged media and an American public growing weary of a war with blurry objectives.

There’s always one normal character in a cast of crazies. In Fobbit, it’s Chance Gooding Jr., a staff sergeant assigned to the pubic affairs [read: public relations] office at the fictional FOB Triumph, set in a fictional former palace of Saddam Hussein. It’s Gooding’s first  first tour of duty in Iraq and he’s keeping a journal of wickedly keen observations about the people, the politics, and the absurdities of his job. There’s his boss, Lt. Colonel Eustace Harkleroad, whose letters to his mother recounting heroic deeds are as fictional as the novels Gooding reads in his spare time. We meet Captain Abe Shrinkle, whose teetering between indecision and impetuosity are masterfully cringe-worthy and yet laughable. Almost normal, considering what he’s seen and done through his Army career, is Lt. Colonel Vic Duret [read: Victory] whose eye on the prize is not winning the war, so much as getting home to his wife’s breasts and his beloved dog.

Each of these four characters feature largely in chapters told in omniscient POV, taking readers into the heads of a zany cast of misfits, missles and machines. While there isn’t an obvious story arc building to a massive climax in Fobbit, like war itself, it’s one event after another in episodic advancement to conclusion. Fobbit isn’t a war story, as much as a brilliant workplace dramedy set in the theater of war.

Abrams retired in 2008 after a 20-year career in the active-duty Army as a journalist. He was named the Department of Defense’s Military Journalist of the Year in 1994 and received several other military commendations throughout his career. His tours of duty took him to Thailand, Japan, Africa, Alaska, Texas, Georgia and The Pentagon. In 2005, he joined the 3rd Infantry Division and deployed to Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The journal he kept during that year formed the blueprint for the novel which would later become known as Fobbit.

A native of Pennsylvania, Abrams grew up in Jackson, Wyoming. He earned a BA in English from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. His short stories have appeared in EsquireNarrativeSalonElectric LiteratureThe LiterarianConnecticut ReviewThe Greensboro ReviewFive ChaptersThe Missouri Review, and many other places. He regularly blogs about the literary life at The Quivering Pen. He now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife.

Follow David Abrams on Twitter: @ImDavidAbrams.

Non-linear Storytelling October 22, 2012

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MediaMonday for October 22, 2012: Should Libraries Offer eBooks? Source media from Library Journal’s Digital Shift, October 19, 2012.

Peter Geye in #litchat

Photo: Matthew Batt

We live one moment to the next in a linear chronology of time. Memories, however, are not bound by chronology. We conjure images, conversations, experiences from the past without respect to its actual place in our own personal history. This Wednesday in #litchat we’ll discuss novels that use such memory hopscotching for literary and storytelling brilliance. On Friday, October 26, novelist Peter Geye, joins us to discuss his new novel, The Lighthouse Road.

In Lighthouse Road, you’ll meet four characters who take residence in your imagination like squatters not willing to leave. Beginning in 1895, you’ll connect with Thea Eide, a recent immigrant from Norway to the wilds of Minnesota. Although Thea dies in her only childbirth in the first chapter, that’s not the last time you hear from her. She visits the story here and there as the novel weaves back and forth through time. The babe Thea died giving birth to, Odd, takes the helm of the story, joined by Hosea Grimm, the self-styled doctor who delivered him and became his guardian, and Grimm’s adopted daughter, Rebekah, who becomes Odd’s lover and mother of his son. Like the harsh Minnesota wilderness that figures prominently in the novel, the story is both bleak with the winters of disappointment, yet shimmers of spring offer hope for the characters. The alternating perspectives draw you into the moment of time with each character, exploring the human instinct for belonging, for authenticity, and for wanting a better life for future generations.

The Lighthouse Road is Geye’s second novel. His first novel is the award-winning, Safe from the Sea. He received his M.F.A. from the University of New Orleans and his Ph.D. from Western Michigan University, where he was editor of Third Coast. He has also been a bartender, bookseller, copywriter, banker and cook. Geye was born in Minneapolis, Minn., where he continues to live with his wife and three children.

Multicultural Literarure October 1, 2012

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MediaMonday for October 1, 2012: When Publishers Sue Authors, source media from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, September 27, 2012.

Zena el Khalil in #litchatReading about foreign lands and exotic cultures broadens one’s views of the world and his or her place in it. In #litchat on Wednesday, we’ll discuss multicultural literature of all types and how it challenges perceptions and stimulates meaningful conversation. On Friday, we’ll welcome as guest host, Zena el Khalil, author of the memoir, Beirut, I Love You.

Zena el Khalil is a visual artist and creative writer whose work has been published and exhibited all over the world. We learn early in her memoir, Beirut, I Love You, that she’s not your typical Arab woman masked behind years of tradition. While a grad student at New York City’s School of Visual Art, she watched the Twin Towers fall the morning of September 11, 2001. Her sense of camaraderie and empathy among city dwellers crumbled like the towers as pubic backlash against everyone of Arab descent raged through the city. Where she might once have written a memoir called, New York, I Love You,  in this book she makes clear her sense of betrayal over the xenophobia of post-9/11 New York.

El Khalil didn’t grow up in Beirut; her family moved to Nigeria to avoid the sectarian wars that dominated much of the news from 1975 to 2000. Her visits to family in Beirut while a child informed her perception of the city as place of sadness and fear, yet she chose the American University of Beirut for her undergraduate work. The bloody civil war was over by then, yet the region was still edgy and suspicious, dangerous and yet inspirational. El Khalil writes honestly about the religious divisions and military machismo that still undermine the stability of the region, bringing readers into the moment as the ordinary turns frantic when a car bomb goes off, a public official is assassinated, or you wander into the wrong neighborhood at any time of day or night.

A poet and visual artist, as well as a writer, el Khalil creates vivid word pictures of life in Beirut. While the title reflects her love for the city that was once known as the “Paris of the Middle East,” the book resonates more with el Khalil’s vibrant love for life. For making a home in an apartment that takes two hours of preparation to get a hot shower. For making art out of everyday objects and poetry from tragedy. For seeing people as individuals and drawing out the extra something within that person. For unabashedly teaching peace in a society torn by cultural taboos and religious restrictions.

During the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, el Khalil began a personal blog about the impact of the 33-day siege on Lebanon and its affect on the people. The blog caught on and was soon publicized on news portals such as CNN, the BBC, The Guardian, Spiegel Online, The Nation, Counterpunch and Electronic Intifada. Her writing was also included in the anthology, Lebanon, Lebanon, published by Saqi Books. In May 2008, el Khalil was invited by the Nobel Peace Center to participate in a panel discussion on freedom of expression over the internet. Earlier this year she was made a TED fellow.

Follow Zena el Khalil on Twitter: @ziggydoodle.

View the Beirut, I Love You video trailer here.

Coming Out: GLBT Lit July 9, 2012

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MediaMonday for July 9, 2012: The Future of American Fiction, an Interview with John Brandon, Flavorpill, July 3, 2012.

Everett Maroon in #litchatWestern culture can no longer hide in the closet pretending homosexuality doesn’t exist, is curable, or will fade with age. This week in #litchat we’re discussing novels and memoirs which feature gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender characters. On Wednesday #litchat welcome’s Everett Maroon, author of the memoir, Bumbling into Body Hair. Friday’s guest host is Jeffrey Sharlach, author of Running in Bed.

Everett Maroon was born female and named Jenifer. As a female, he came out gay in 1990 while an undergrad at Syracuse University. Not just a lesbian, but a butch lesbian fond of food, cats and lipstick. As the years passed, so did his identification with his female gender. Bumbling into Body Hair is his funny, insightful and often painful journey through the process of a sex change. For Maroon, coming out as gay was no surprise to his family; the closet he’d hidden behind had a transparent door. His transition from female to male, however, was like coming out of a completely new closet with a door no one had seen behind. Maroon writes with both wit and grace, holding reader’s hands through the pain, while jabbing them with hilarious pokes at his own expense.

Everett Maroon is a memoirist, pop culture commentator, and speculative fiction writer. He has a B.A. in English from Syracuse University and went through an English literature master’s program there. He is the author of Bumbling into Body Hair, published by Booktrope. Everett writes about writing and  living in the Northwest at He has written for Bitch Magazine, GayYA.org, I Fry Mine in Butter, RH RealityCheck, and Remedy Quarterly. He will be writing for Original Plumbing on popular culture and trans civil rights. He has had short stories published by SPLIT QuarterlyTwisted Dreams Magazine, and forthcoming from Topside Press (October 2012). Everett lives in Walla Walla, Washington, with his wife and baby son. He is originally from Hightstown, New Jersey.

Jeffrey Sharlach in #litchatRunning in Bed is Jeffrey Sharlach’s semi-biographical novel of gay New York just prior to and during the emergence of AIDS. Where Allan Gurganus’s Plays Well With Others is literary, rich with metaphor and subtext, Sharlach’s Running in Bed is straight forward and endearingly brutal about himself and the epidemic that would wipe out nearly every gay man he knew in the course of a few years. Sharlach takes us through New York’s Gay Yellow Pages during his poignant self-acceptance, then into his sexual awakening of one-night-stands as he seeks a companion to share his life with. When he finds that partner in the gorgeous, former rent boy Tommy, readers see the tragedy ahead that naive and trusting Josh refuses to acknowledge. As our society becomes more tolerant and even accepting to GLBT concerns, we will look back at such books as Running in Bed for cultural reminders of the bad old days.

Jeffrey Sharlach attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University (B.S.J., 1974) and then the New York University School of Law (J.D., 1977). He never practiced law, but migrated into public relations with several prominent firms before founding the JeffreyGroup in 1993. He came out as a gay man at 24 shortly after beginning work at his first full time job following graduation in 1977. He was living in New York’s Greenwich Village, still basking in the golden glow of the post Stonewall decade before the darkness of AIDS descended. His early single years were spent in the heyday of disco and clubs like Studio 54 and The Saint. It was at a club, The Last Resort on First Avenue that that he met his first partner, Ken Williams, a social worker, in 1981 and they were together until Ken’s death in 1994. Running in Bed is Sharlach’s first novel.

Follow Jeffrey Sharlach on Twitter: @RunningInBed.

What’s In A Title? June 18, 2012

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MediaMonday for June 25, 2012: Killing Your Darlings. Veronia Roth recently wrote this post about killing off characters in her hugely popular Divergent series. GalleyCat collected a few other snippets from authors about character demise. Read the links above, then join us today to discuss in #litchat.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can tell a lot about a novel by its title. Consider Junot Diaz’s The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, or Susan Straight’s I’ve Been to Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots. These titles allude to what lies within, without telling the story itself. Other titles, such as At Swim-Two Birds by Flann O’Brien or To Kill A Mockingbird, reflect on important themes or events in the story, but don’t hint to what readers will find inside the pages. What makes a good title? Does gut reaction to a title affect a book’s sales? Why do agents and editors often change an author’s title? We’ll discuss these questions and more on Wednesday and Friday in #litchat.

Michelle Brower in #litchatFriday’s guest host, Michelle Brower, literary agent at Folio Literary Management, joins us as guest host on Friday, June 29. Brower began her career in publishing in 2004 while studying for her Master’s degree in English Literature at New York University, and has been hooked ever since. During that time, she assisted the agents Wendy Sherman and Joelle Delbourgo, and found herself in love with the process of discovering new writers and helping existing writers further their careers. After graduating, she became an agent with Wendy Sherman Associates, and there began representing books in many different areas of fiction and non-fiction. In 2009, she joined Folio Literary Management, where she is looking for literary fiction, thrillers, high-quality commercial fiction that transcends genre, and narrative non-fiction. She enjoys digging into a manuscript and working with authors to make their project as saleable as it can be, and her list includes the authors S.G. Browne, Julia Wertz, Todd Ritter, and Michele Young-Stone among many others.

Opening Lines June 11, 2012

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MediaMonday for June 11, 2012: Revival of Oprah’s Book Club. Resource media from The Week.

Robert Goolrick in LitChatOpening lines. Novelists learn early how important the first line is to a story. There are competitions all over the world for the best opening line and even the worst opening line. Opening lines are like the first bite of a desired dish, that point when the appearance, aroma, texture and sapor of the food mingle upon the tongue and hunger is put to bay. On Wednesday, June 13, we’ll discuss our favorite opening lines, then on Friday,  June 15, author Robert Goolrick joins us as guest host.

There are several passages within Robert Goolrick’s new novel, Heading Out to Wonderful, that jump from the page, but the opening line is seriously memorable: “The thing is, all memory is fiction.” The paragraph that follows tosses all of the ingredients of memory into an opening in which the narrator, Sam, admits, “It’s a true story, as much as six decades of remembering and telling can allow it to be true. Time changes things, and you don’t always get everything right.” With this set-up, Goolrick takes us to a place called wonderful and back to the brutal reality of what happens when that wonderful evolves back to real life. Another memorable passage explains it like this:

“When you’re young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand-new penny, but before you get to wonderful you’re going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, stop and take a good, long look, because that may be as far as you’re ever going to go.”

Telling this tale from the distance of sixty years, Sam takes readers back to post-WWII Virginia, when soldiers were heroes and small town life revolved around family and baseball and church and Sunday dinners. In the bucolic town of Brownsburg, Virginia, there had never been a crime before Charlie Beale came to town carrying two suitcases. How the narrator knows that one suitcase was full of money and the other was full of butcher knives, we can only surmise. Yet this revelation sets the story in motion and carries it through a place that is wonderful for a time, but turns terrible when the wonder is sucked away.

Sam was but a young boy when Charlie came to town, a war hero handsome, strong and charismatic. Everything his older father wasn’t. Sam’s idolizing Charlie plays heavily into what happens when he’s drawn into the web that would be wonderful for Charlie and the married woman of his obsession. Goolrick, a Southerner, knows first hand the power of Southern legend, how intoxicating it becomes as it’s distilled through the years. His choice to tell the story through the backward glance of an old man is spot on.

Once an advertising executive, Robert Goolrick is the author of three books, including the critically acclaimed memoir, The End of the World As We Know It. His first novel, A Reliable Wife, was a runaway bestseller. Goolrick lives in an old farmhouse on a river in rural Virginia with his dog, Preacher.

Follow Robert Goolrick on Twitter: @whistlecreek.

Literary Ghost Stories May 14, 2012

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Media Monday for May 14, 2012: Losing Yourself in Fictional Characters. New research recently published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests close identification with a fictional character can affect your real life. Read this report by Jeff Grabmeier published in Ohio State University Research News, then join the discussion in #litchat today at 4 p.m. E.T.

Jessica Maria Tuccelli in #litchat

Jessica Maria Tuccelli, photo by Shirin Tinati

Ghosts, haints, spirits, and wraiths thrive through literary history, playing a myriad of parts for the revelation of story. Must they always be evil spirits set to destroy? Can they be friendly Caspers who lead characters into truth or understanding? What about metaphor and symbolism of spirits? How and why do authors conjure the voices of the dead for storytelling? This Wednesday in #litchat, we’ll discuss these questions, as well as share our favorite literary ghost stories. Then on Friday, May 18, author Jessica Maria Tuccelli , joins us to tell us about the spirits and their stories in her debut novel, Glow.

Glow is an ambitious novel of literary merit, set in mountainous Northern Georgia, covering the mid 1800s and running through 1941. Written in multiple character POVs, several of them shoot off as if story vines of their own, yet each POV vine entwines into the main vine. Most compelling are the characters Willie Mae and Mia, who never meet within the pages of the novel, yet its conclusion offers a delicious wonder at what happens when they do.

At Glow‘s opening in 1941, Mia, half-native American and half Scotch-Irish, puts her nine-year-old daughter Ella on a bus from Washington, D.C, back to her brother in Hopewell County, Georgia, to get her away from threats gained by Mia’s involvement with the NAACP. After a series of mishaps, Ella is taken in by Willie Mae and her beloved Mary-Mary, both former slaves whose tales are revealed in several shoots off the main story vine. From here we descend through the roots of the valley and its pre-Civil War inhabitants both slave and free. Even with the roots mixed down from the same progenitors, we see the ugly shoot of racism sprout from the vine and squeeze the life of the hated and the hater. Narrated primarily by Willie Mae, who dominates the story with her big voice, we meet the real life people of the ghosts that haunt the hills and valleys of Hopewell County. Glow isn’t a book to scare or spook, yet we see how its ghosts have the capacity to wreak havoc in the lives of the living, including Willie Mae, Mia and Ella.

Jessica Maria Tuccelli spent three summers trekking through northeastern Georgia, soaking up its ghost stories and folklore. A graduate of MIT with a degree in anthropology, she divides her time between Rome and New York City. Glow is her first novel.

Follow Jessica Maria Tuccelli on Twitter: @jmtuccelli.

The Quality of Location April 22, 2012

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Media Monday for April 23, 2012: HIT LIST: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers. Read the excerpt provided here by NPR Books.

We’ve discussed the importance of setting in #litchat on numerous occasions. On Wednesday, we’ll look at setting from a new angle: How setting influences character change in a novel. Then on Friday, Mary Vensel White joins us to discuss her novel, The Quality of Wood. More about White and her debut novel to come.

The Qualities of Wood is one of the first novels published by Authonomy, the new HarperCollins imprint drawn from the Authonomy online writing community. White posted sections of her novel in her Authonomy profile and found extremely rich feedback from other Authonomy writers, eventually gaining the attention of HarperCollins editors. Released in January 2012, the novel is available as an ebook in both Kindle and ePub formats.

With tight prose and plainspoken storytelling, White creates a tense story-within-a story where family secrets and small-town mysteries collide in the woods between what is and what once was. At the center of the story is the old house on the edge of the woods which Vivian and her husband Nowell are renovating to sell on behalf of Nowell’s late grandmother. People come and go within the story, dropping hints and allusions like debris on the wood’s floor. As each character sifts through the detritus to discover their own understanding, the truth emerges without accusation, and settles within the hearts of those with the need to know.

Mary Vensel White was born in Los Angeles and raised in Lancaster, Calif. She graduated from the University of Denver and lived for five years in Chicago, where she completed an MA in English at DePaul University. She lives in southern California with her husband, four children and two badly trained dogs, in a chaotic but happy home. The Qualities of Wood is White’s first novel but she is currently at work on a second, set again in the Midwest, a place that lives and flourishes in her imagination. White is also working on a collection of interrelated stories, a method of writing which the esteemed women of her book club refuse to acknowledge as a novel. Watch for news about these two projects.

Follow Mary Vensel White on Twitter: @mvw888.

Homing Instincts March 19, 2012

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Media Monday discussion: The ethics of commercial fan fiction ala Fifty Shades of Grey, by E L James. Resource media by Galley Cat editor Jason Boog for NPR Books.

Thomas Wolfe may have written the opus on returning home, but the conviction that you can’t go home again was well understood in the lexicon of life before Wolfe’s title was published. On Wednesday, March 21 in #litchat we’ll discuss novels with themes about returning home, then on Friday, March 23, author Myfanwy Collins joins us as guest host to discuss her debut novel, Echolocation (Engine Books).

As the title suggests, Echolocation draws an unforgettable cast of misfits to a home in the wilds of upstate New York that means something different to each one of them. There’s Marie, matriarch and mistress of the town convenience store, who’s raised a foster daughter, Geneva, to take over the store. Marie’s wild half-sister, Renee, flew the roost years ago, leaving her daughter, Cherie, for Marie to raise. When Marie succumbs to cancer, the three surviving women converge in the home they once shared with Marie, bringing their secrets, shame and self-destructive habits along with them. Add a baby girl and an ex-boyfriend bent on revenge and the story takes on a surreal seriousness that satisfies with its shocking conclusion.

Myfanwy Collins was born in Montreal, grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and now lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, AGNI, Cream City Review, Quick Fiction, and Potomac Review. A collection of her short fiction is forthcoming from PANK Little Books in August 2012.

Follow Myfanwy Collins on Twitter: @MyfanwyCollins.